Like many students, Jacob Crist wasn’t entirely sure what he wanted to do with his life when he enrolled at Montgomery County Community College in the fall of 2016. Yet fast forward four years later, and he’s all set to transfer to the University of Alaska Fairbanks to study emergency management- a major he hadn’t even considered when he first stepped on campus.
“How did I not know about this?” he said. “It’s completely changed my life. I fell in love with the major. It’s the coolest thing I found.”
When the 22-year-old first began attending classes at MCCC’s Central Campus in Blue Bell after graduating from Methacton High School in 2016, it was a bumpy start, he said. Crist studies mixed martial arts, and several injuries from fighting held him back from making much progress as a Nursing major.
“I had to take off for a couple of my courses,” he said. “I couldn’t stand during my labs because of my back injury. So I took math classes instead.”
Then he switched majors, first to biology and then to liberal studies. Two years went by and, still adrift academically, Crist met with Academic Advisor Stefanie Crouse, to figure out what he wanted to do with his life.
“At that time I was working with Lafayette Ambulance and Rescue Squad in King of Prussia,” he said. “I loved that. I was telling my advisor about my interests. I knew I wanted to help people but I’m not the biggest fan of anatomy. I was telling her about helping people and working in the medical field, to see if there was a way to continue without becoming a doctor or nurse.”
Crouse suggested he look into the Emergency Management program. Crist did some research and was hooked.
“It had everything I liked,” he said. “Public health, emergency medical management. It’s all around.”
Crist said he was excited by the number of possibilities afforded to someone with an emergency management degree including search and rescue, working with hazardous materials, international emergency management and emergency preparedness and response. He visited the Montgomery County Emergency Operations Center in Eagleville and was impressed by the binders for any emergency scenario. He also appreciated the support he received from several people he met in the field who offered him guidance whenever he needed it.
He knew this was the right career for him.
Rather than wait to finish his associate’s degree, Crist decided to enroll at a local four-year university in the spring of 2019. Yet the school wasn’t the right fit for him, and he decided to come back to MCCC to finish his associate’s degree in the spring of 2020 and begin researching the best schools for emergency management. The University of Alaska had an online program and he remembered joking about actually living on campus there instead.
“I remember them saying ‘why don’t you actually go there?’” he said. “It caught me off guard because they’ve always wanted me to stay close to home.”
With his parents’ support he did some more research and learned all of his credits from MCCC would transfer with him allowing him to earn a bachelor’s degree quickly. The emergency management program also had the most concentrations of any school he’d seen. Plus the courses were affordable and comparable to what he was paying at MCCC.
“I have my associate’s degree and then two more years and I’ll be completely done,” he said. “I was incredibly surprised.”
Lastly, the campus, he said, was beautiful. For most of the year, the temperature held between 50 and 70 degrees. He also got a laugh seeing photos of students in their bathing suits standing in two feet of snow in temperatures hovering 30 degrees below zero in the winter. The only drawback was that given its location on Earth, the campus would be in darkness during half of the fall semester due to lack of sunlight, but that wasn’t enough to turn him away.
So Crist will be packing his bags for the Last Frontier State to study Homeland Security and Emergency Management with a concentration in Emergency Medical and Public Health Management, and a minor in Spanish.
When he graduates in two years, Crist said he’ll likely stay in Alaska or come back to Pennsylvania to work at a hospital in emergency management or with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.
From starting at MCCC without much direction to being well on his way toward a bachelor’s degree and a great career, Crist credits his time at MCCC for pointing him in the right direction.
“When I finally found something I loved and was super interested in, it was immense,” he said. “It was so inspiring to know I have something to work towards.”